Exploring Less-Traveled Wine Regions

Sometimes a journey off the beaten path leads to the a more personal vineyard experience. Learn to take a chance on the unknown.
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Whether you’re in the wine business or just the business of drinking wine, it’s inevitable that you’ll fall into a rut. It’s easy to default to brand recognition, familiarity of grape variety or known places like Bordeaux and Burgundy, Barolo or Rioja.

As someone who’s had the privilege to travel widely, I’ve never spurned the chance to explore little-known wine regions. And while those lesser-traveled roads have had their bumps (quite literally, as in dirt “roads” through cow pastures in Romania on which we regularly encountered horse-drawn carriages, or on one day, a tiny car with a coffin strapped to its roof), they’ve also had highlights.

While the other writer who accompanied me on this side trek was appalled at the helter-skelter nature of the vineyard, I was charmed.

A few years ago, I took a tour through small regions in south and southwest France. Some of the wines were great: tart, crisp whites from Gaillac and Côtes de Gascogne, rich, unique Malbecs from ­Cahors and smoky, seductive reds made from ­Négrette in Fronton.

Often, the stories of the winemakers were just as compelling, whether it involved the romantic reclaiming of a neglected estate and lost grape varieties or the practical struggle to gain recognition for a small region that doesn’t have, as one Malbec producer told me, “Argentina’s sex and tango.”

Even in better-known regions, these small stories exist. On a visit to Bordeaux’s St-Emilion, I passed up a visit to a Premier Grand Cru Classé estate to spend the afternoon at Château Coutet, a winery whose quirkiness is reflected in its long history and its current stewardship.

I’d been told the vineyard was “One of the most exciting terroirs in the world.” Though owner Xavier David Beaulieu shrugs off such titles, as well as rules.

Traveling Margaret River in a 1955 Bentley

His unprogrammed 32-acre plot amid some of the appellation’s most prestigious estates—Angelus, Beauséjour and Canon among them—is biodynamic by default. It has attracted rare birds and insects coming for the even rarer flora, like the wild gladiola and Roman tulips that have thrived here for centuries.

While the other wine writer who accompanied me on this side trek was appalled at the helter-skelter nature of the vineyard, I was charmed.

As a reward for my intrepidness, Beaulieu pulled out a rare bottle from his cave, made by his grandmother, as a toast to adventurers. I don’t know where that other writer ended up that afternoon, but I stayed until dark and until the strange night birds came out and pecked at the grapes, with nary a protest from Beaulieu.

As much as I know future wine travels will include the manicured estates in marquis regions, I also hope they include these small, strange treasures. And the next time you’re in a drinking rut, try something similarly off the beaten track.

Published on July 11, 2017
Topics: Travel
About the Author
Lana Bortolot

Bortolot has written about community development, historic preservation and arts & culture for the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, on design for Entrepreneur magazine, on food and wine for Saveur and other magazines for the wine and spirits trade. She holds the Level 3 Advanced Wine & Spirits Education Trust certification and is working on the Level 4 Diploma. Having covered most European wine regions and a few in South America, she is always looking for a new wine-stained stamp on her passport.



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